Fowl is fair! Key Food’s chicken relabeling is completely kosher

The Brooklyn Paper

A Brooklyn Heights Key Food that has been repeatedly accused of changing the “sell-by” date on meat is off the hook this week after the state revealed that the relabeling practice is completely legal.

The Atlantic Avenue market was under state scrutiny last month after customer Marie Viljoen took pictures of a spoiled D’Artagnan chicken, which appeared to have a new “sell by” date placed over the 11-day-old original. The store has been smacked with some serious food safety violations over the past few months, but the state now says that there’s no problem.

“ ‘Sell by’ dates are nothing but a tool for store managers,” said Jessica Ziehm, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture and Markets that inspected the Key Food after Viljoen’s claims. “It’s not illegal to re-date or re-package, though they’re still required to sell safe, wholesome products. We went there and found no problems.”

Ziehm said the department followed up on Viljoen’s May 13 claim mainly because her chicken had spoiled — but inspectors couldn’t find any “critical deficiencies” in the store’s practices at that time.

That said, reports obtained by The Brooklyn Paper revealed that this particular Key Food walked a thin line last month after inspectors found back-to-back food deficiencies of the worst grade. In April, inspectors found a significant “buildup of old encrusted meat residues on food contact surfaces,” and in May, they found flies in the basement kitchen — problems that were resolved in front of inspectors.

If the Key Food had failed a third inspection on May 13, its license could have been revoked, Ziehm said.

Viljoen isn’t the only one complaining. On Monday, after the Cobble Hill Blog reprinted our original story, a commenter provided a shocking picture of a package of meat labeled “octopus” that clearly contained some octopus, but mostly imitation crab.

Still, the store is exonerated in the eyes of the state, at least until the next inspection. A manager who asked not to be named denied having ever tampering with the labels — though he extended an apology to Viljoen.

“We want our customers coming back,” the employee said. “We want to do a service to this community.”

He even offered Viljoen a free chicken, but she won’t accept, saying that the store’s previous complaints and inspection failures are telling.

“I read labels because I want to know what I’m eating — I think this is a systematic problem,” Viljoen said. “[The workers] seem to do whatever they can get away with. I won’t shop there anymore, based on principle.”

Reader Feedback

Dave from Clinton Hill says:
Excuse me but wtf? How does this make any sense when all it's doing is giving people exposure to food that's most likely gone bad? How can you change an original sell by date??
June 2, 2010, 10:01 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
the relabelled chicked is an important staple of my "lose weight by diarreah and vomit diet".
June 2, 2010, 11:54 am
John from East Williamsburg says:
I believe the point is that there is no law requiring a specific expiration date on meat/poultry, so the store is free to label them as they please.

Besides, the way the corporations manipulate these birds genetically, it should be illegal to refer to them as "chicken."
June 3, 2010, 9:44 am
Kitty kat from Sunset park says:
A chicken with any other wrapping would taste just as sweet.
June 3, 2010, 10:26 am
The Heights from Brooklyn Heights says:
Unbelievable & Sickening!!!

Change this! Change this! Change this! Change this!
June 3, 2010, 12:18 pm
Ned from Williamsburg says:
This is why we should all try to buy our meat from local organic farmers. There is no way to get healthy food from a corrupt business owner and a crippled regulatory system. Also Key Food is filthy...anyone could see that.
June 3, 2010, 12:37 pm
I Am Blank from Gowanus says:
Im no expert in micro-organisms and correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what I believe to be true:

While I don't think this practice is particularly appetizing, from what I know about food poisoning, the chicken could be purchased well before even the original label's expiration date and if its not handled or cooked properly by the purchaser, they could get salmonella from a perfectly fresh chicken, no matter what organic or non organic farmer they purchased it from.

Also, even if the chicken is spoiled out of the package, you can smell it and simply go back to the store the same day with the receipt and say you want your money back and get a new one. It will be very clear to the store owners and you who is right just by the smell.

Even if you didn't return the chicken and cooked it anyway and followed the proper and recommended instructions, you wouldn't get food poisoning if you cooked it fully at the proper temperature and duration. You just would have chicken that didn't taste very good. The heat would kill all the bacteria. All the more reason to return it before cooking and get your money back.

But you won't get food poisoning unless you cook it improperly, even with a perfectly fresh chicken.

I still think its disgusting, regardless, to sell old meat, but there's no health concern if you are practicing proper sanitary measures when cooking it. You'll just have a lousy tasting meal and maybe an unsatisfied feeling in your gut.

June 3, 2010, 1:52 pm
Kitty kat from Sunset park says:
I don't see what the fuss is about - some people (like myself) prefer the taste of well aged chicken. I try to seek out the chickens that are closest to the sell by date as possible. Food only gets better when it's left to age in a styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic. Anyone will tell you that the longer food sits, more nutritious it becomes.
Perhaps they should raise the price when they alter the sell-by date.
June 4, 2010, 7:54 am
JJ from Brooklyn heights says:
Ned, I shop in Key Food regularly. It is NOT filthy (although I will add that the store looks much better under its new management).

And as for organic meat — you really think you're getting a guarantee of food safety, given the fact that the food is less likely to be handled, included transported, in a professional, properly refrigerated, manner?

In all of this, cheers to Kitty kat, who at least has a sense of humor.
June 4, 2010, 1:17 pm

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